General news, Social Issues

New York City ID Cards Coming With Cultural Benefits

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The municipal identification cards that New York plans to start issuing next year in an effort to make life easier for undocumented immigrants will come with an added benefit so enticing that many others may sign up for them too: an offer of free tickets or discounts at 33 of the city’s leading cultural institutions.

Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall; the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden; the American Museum of Natural History, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and many others will offer a variety of perks — most of them equivalent to a basic one-year membership — to holders of the new ID cards, which are expected to be made available to any city resident over age 14, regardless of their legal status.

The incentives are meant, in part, to encourage cultural activity among immigrants and other New Yorkers who may feel they cannot afford to visit the symphony or ballet. That anyone can sign up is by design: The de Blasio administration clearly hopes the cards will be embraced by a wide swath of residents, reducing any potential stigma they may carry.

Among the deals are a one-year membership at the Bronx Zoo (a $79 value), $5 off the price of a movie ticket at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and discounted admission to plays at the Public Theater. For food lovers, there is a 10 percent discount at M. Wells Dinette, the quirky culinary outpost at MoMA PS 1 in Long Island City, Queens.

But the fine print includes many caveats. The City Ballet, for instance, is offering access to rehearsals and seminars, but not to regular performances. Some of the museums offering no-cost admission, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are already technically free. And some of the city’s higher-priced sites, like the Museum of Modern Art, the Neue Galerie and the Whitney Museum of American Art, are not part of the initial group of participating institutions, all of which operate in city-owned buildings or on city-owned land.

Still, the benefits are likely to attract working- and middle-class New Yorkers who might not otherwise have considered signing up for an additional form of identification, which is just what occurred in San Francisco when it offered similar discounts to local attractions as part of its municipal ID program.

The possibility that thousands of residents might rush to take advantage of the programs initially caused concern among some museum directors, who are keenly sensitive to their institutions’ financial needs.

That reluctance seems to have eased, at least judging by the feel-good attitude during a news conference at the Bronx Zoo on Thursday, where Mayor Bill de Blasio and leaders of several of the participating cultural institutions congratulated one another on the program’s creation.

“We’re looking at this as an investment in the future,” said Arnold L. Lehman, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, who has acted as a key liaison between the de Blasio administration and the city’s museums.

“There was talk about what this will cost to individual members and potential lost revenue,” Mr. Lehman added. “But everybody came together around the idea that this is about the future. It really broadens the base.”

“In the long run, it’s going to be a proposition that could actually improve the membership quantities at these institutions,” said Tom Finkelpearl, the city’s commissioner of cultural affairs, when asked at the news conference if institutions could afford to provide the benefits.

The question, and Mr. Finkelpearl’s financially focused reply, stirred something in Mr. de Blasio, who quickly took back the microphone and dismissed concerns about what he deemed “narrow economics.”

“I think we have to remember what these institutions are here for,” the mayor said, adding, “From my point of view, this is about the mission to expose this entire city to our cultural assets.”

The exchange summed up the current dynamic between Mr. de Blasio and some of New York’s major cultural institutions, which rely in part on the city’s largess to receive public funds. Some museum leaders, accustomed to the friendly tone of the previous mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg — himself a lavish benefactor to many of the same institutions — have taken pains to develop a relationship with Mr. de Blasio, whose populist campaign rhetoric left them uneasy.

The municipal identification program, and the event on Thursday, offered those cultural leaders a chance to show they could be active partners in Mr. de Blasio’s focus on fighting social inequality.

“The value for all of us, as the mayor says, is in our accessibility, and maximizing our accessibility for those people who have not have crossed our thresholds,” said Emily K. Rafferty, the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “For us, we look at it as an expansion of our audiences, which is something that is a core part of all of our missions.”

Read More at the New York Times